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January 2009 Archives

January 1, 2009

5-Oh be cool

We're talking December 30th, Tunnel Road, just when you make the turn and are riding up above the highway. I hear police sirens and a minute later, "GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE! HANDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD!!" on one of those loudspeaker things. Whoa pull over this sounds like it's going to be good.

So there's a red car not far from the freeway entrance on an onramp. Traffic is blocked on the freeway heading east. And behind the red car, there are 14 squad cars. More cops than I could count, guns drawn, and big fucking automatic machine gun things. I don't know what the guys in the red car did but those cops did not like it.

So the guy in the car gets out, puts his hands up, and starts walking backward toward the cops. They grab him and shove him in the car, then do the same with the other guy who was in there. Then six or eight of them line up with their guns drawn and charge at the car. AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH but no gun battle in the end. The action was over, so I carried on with the bicycling.

Later I came home and was telling the story. Nothing on the news, no chopper shots, nothing. 14 squad cars and how many cops and no mention whatsoever. I pulled out my phone to show my friend the cars and the cops and the hands over the head, captured in miniature on the cell phone screen. FUCK. Forgot to push the "store" button.

I swear guys, those cops had machine guns.

January 4, 2009

Public service announcement: The Broiler

Several nights ago, I was making pizza with my friend John, who may or may not read this blog. He blew my mind by pointing out that in a gas stove, the broiler does not come from the top of the oven, like it does in the electric-coil oven. I'd had this problem before - turn the oven up to broil, throw in the food, and nothing happens! Cue the revelation.

You know that little slot below the oven, the place where you keep your cookie sheet and whatever other pans you can shove in? THAT IS THE BROILER! Think it through; it makes perfect sense. In a gas oven, the flame comes from the bottom. In order to broil the TOP of stuff, you have to get under that flame. Pull out that funny compartment, shove in some hot dogs or nachos or pizza or whatever, and presto. Browned and delicious.

Although I was amazed and grateful for the added functionality of my kitchen, I did not immediately think this blog-worthy. I assumed everyone knew about the broiler-slot, and that I'd just missed the memo. HOWEVER. The very next day, I went out to Lisa's place in Davis for a night before JesusDay potluck meal. There was stuffing, potato dumplings, goat cheese and home made bread, scalloped potatoes with roasted peppers, some kind of spicy chicken, yes there was all this and more. My contribution was bacon-wrapped and feta-stuffed dates. Delicious, but requiring broiling. After they'd baked for ten minutes or so, I pulled them out, opened the bottom slot, and said, "I'm just going to finish these off in the broiler." The crowd gasped. BROILER???? THAT IS THE BROILER? YOU MEAN ALL THIS TIME I'VE BEEN BROILING IN THE TOASTER OVEN FOR NO REASON AT ALL??????????????????? Joy and amazement all around, a real Christmas miracle.

Now you know. If you have a gas oven, the broiler is on the bottom. Merry Christmas!

January 14, 2009

Facebook prelims

I'm taking my big chemical engineering exams tomorrow and Friday. Oral exams over all aspects of chemical engineering that I should have learned as an undergrad. I didn't start to freak out until I opened facebook and saw this status update:

Josh Wise is wondering if a high of -2 is low enough to physically prevent ice skating.54 minutes ago

And I thought, well shit, we know that the P-V diagram of water is strange because the solid-liquid equilibrium line has a negative slope, so pressure can push us into the liquid regime. But we really need to know how much weight Josh has gained since I last saw him, and his shoe size, then we could figure out whether ice skating is an appropriate activity for a day like today...

And then I passed out in a whirlwind of differential equations.

See ya in 36 hours!

January 17, 2009

In for five.

I guess I should have written a post before I found out that I actually passed my preliminary exams. But as far as I remember, this is how it went:

First test: transport. This was my weakest area, lots of math, lots of funny vector notation that I had a weak grasp on, lots of permutations of the same problems that gave me fits. I bought a copy of the seminal book in transport phenomena, and worked through a good 60% of it in the three weeks leading up to the tests. My first problem was easy - momentum balance on a plate moving up through a pool of water and causing a film to collect on the surface of the plate. Find an expression for the velocity profile of the film.

For the second problem, dbags asked me to draw a bubble at the surface of a pool of water, and then to draw it down some distance below the surface. What happens to the bubble? I fumbled for a while before realizing that the force of the column of water would cause diffusion out of the bubble until the partial pressures were equal. I think I was in denial about the surface tension contribution, because I HATE surface tension. I still don't really get it. But after being harassed about it, I added in the term, realized that the bubble would eventually disappear completely, and waited for the next pitch.

Gravie gets that look on his face that says I'm about to tell you something that will satisfy me greatly. Then he launches into a bunch of facts about a certain beetle - this beetle gathers a bubble from the surface of the water, takes it underwater with him, and uses it to breathe. Some Darwin wannabee decides to do an experiment: give the beetle pure nitrogen, pure oxygen, or a regular air bubble. To his surprise, it turns out the beetle can stay underwater longer on air than pure oxygen, why?

Then Davie whips out another beetle. THIS beetle, he tells me, has evolved a mechanism for keeping his bubble viable indefinitely - this despite the surface tension that's causing a driving force for mass transfer from the bubble into the water. How does he do it??

Then they let me out. I caught a Muller-Graves mutual head nod, which I took to mean "yup that's a pass". I was off to a good start. Thermo was next though, and I've hated thermo since the day I was born.

It started with a softball of a kinetics question about some catalyzed reaction and multiple steady states in a CSTR. The thermo question was about osmotic pressure - sophomore chemistry stuff. As soon as the words came out of the prof's mouth I knew it was going to be a train wreck - I hated osmotic pressure as a sophomore and hadn't given it a thought since. I wrote some equilibrium conditions on the board, and the prof goes, "OK, so that's what you think it is. Continue." And I was like, well that's pretty much all I got. Long awkward silence. I tried to make it into a different problem and began solving that one, but I was reeled back in. Lots of moving from one side of the board to the other, maybe I'll see the answer if I stand here... nope. I bumbled around and got nowhere for another 15 minutes, after which we were out of time (the exam had been running late so I think I only took about 35 minutes. A long 35 minutes though). Thank goodness.

Process was the next morning. I had John Prausnitz, major contributor to the concept of fugacity (still don't understand what that shit means) and elder statesman of the department. The other prof was Rachel Seagalman, admissions chair and a big question mark. I expected her to be bad cop, but she must have felt sorry for me.

I launched into a gripping schpiel about bioprocessing, in lieu of the senior design project that I can't recall a thing about. They loved it, they were intrigued, they wanted to know more. After all the process details that Steve sent me to prepare for the exam, I only got through protein A chromatography, and got cut off. OK, let's talk about some shit you don't know about now. Damn.

So Rachel wanted me to explain how to keep a fishtank clean. Obviously the first thing you do is get some of those sweet suckerfish, an activated carbon filter, and bubble some O2 through there. No problems. How do you reactivate the carbon? Whatever, eventually I got to hot water. Fish=alive!

Then Prau wanted to know about azeotropic distillation, extractive distillation, and all manner of chemE stuff upon which my grasp was quite loose. I was starting to frustrate him, aaah dammit woman why can't you just tell me the answer!! I was supposed to draw a T-x-y diagram for two components crystallizing - I pretty much completely failed to do that, until Prausnitz stomped to the board and drew it for me. This was accompanied by Rachel imploring me to "just count the phases Katie. Count the phases!! Can't you count!?!?" I could not count the phases.

Then we talked about the device that cools your microchip - a copper tube with a drop of water on it. The chip vaporizes the water, cooling the chip, and the water then condenses on the tube and rolls back to the chip to absorb more water. After that discussion, Prausnitz and Seags look at each other, and he says, "let's stop while we're ahead, shall we?" I hung my head, thanked them, and took a lap through campus to calm down before facing my classmates.

Everyone felt like shit, which seems to be the whole point of these exams, remind the smart kids how much smarter their professors are. It's an academic version of a frat hazing. But shit, I did just learn the bulk of 4 years of chemical engineering in 3 weeks. And that's something.

I'll tell you about the rest of the day later. I gotta clean my apartment.

January 18, 2009

Tech review: my phone

My phone is a Motorola Pebl. I got it in 2006, when I moved to Davis. It was the first contracted mobile phone I'd ever owned. Let's run through its strengths and weaknesses, shall we?

- Flips open with one hand (sweet pull-down magnet mechanism)
- Round edge doesn't poke you when it's in your pocket
- Neat color
- Takes pictures
- Doesn't break when it falls out of your pocket and flips open on the ground as you're riding your bike to school. Also does not break when after falling on the ground, it gets run over by a car. Also does not break when it then gets run over by ANOTHER car. Snaps back together easily after being run over by multiple cars and continues its years of service.

- Gets a little scratched after being run over by two cars.


January 24, 2009

Bianchi revival

This bike's story starts with my friend Paul. Paul needed a bike to ride in the Tour de Cure, a charity bike ride in the Napa area. A friend of his had a bike and said he could use it to train for a while, so he took it to a local shop and asked them to tune it up.

They told him that there was no way they'd let him ride that bike. It had been crashed into the back of a bus some time ago, and the head tube was cracked and deformed, leaving about 1 mm of clearance between the tire and the downtube.

Paul eventually found a different bike, a sweet Schwinn Paramount from the early 90's that's 10 times better than the Bianchi. And I got the old frame and parts, a mix of early 90's Campagnolo Mirage and Veloce 8-speed stuff.

Eventually I found a frame on the ol' Craigslist, my love and surely my eventually downfall. It was another old Bianchi frame, and I'll be damned if it's not exactly the same model, but conveniently in my size. (To be fair, it was originally to be a bike for my sister, but she found something that suited her before I had a chance to build this one up.)

Here's the bike, in temporal order:

The new old frame.
Post powder coat!
Still loving that 50mm lens.
My apartment turned garage.
The fork situation is complicated...

I don't have all the tools necessary for this job, so I stripped Paul's Bianchi down to the frame and took it to my new favorite place in Berkeley, Street Level Cycles, the bike portion of Waterside Workshop. This place is great: they have half a dozen workstands and tons of tools that they'll let you use for free. They also have a couple volunteer mechanics to help you, used parts, and used bikes for reasonable prices. I pulled the headset from old old frame, and pressed it in to the new old frame. Brad came with me and trued up his wheel, which successfully stopped it from making the very annoying brake-rub-squeak with each wheel rotation.

I had to take the frame back to Mike's Bikes to get the bottom bracket/crank (forever joined together - another story) put back in, and the races swapped on the two forks that I now own. Watch this space for the fully assembled bike - hopefully I can put it together this afternoon.

January 25, 2009

Bianchi revival, part II.

I had some free time while the real mechanics were dealing with my crank and fork, so I decided to put the new used tires I had lying around on to the Bianchi's wheels. I went to take off the cracked, flat rear tire, and found that I couldn't get a tire lever under the bead. Because there is no bead. It's a tubular wheel, and it's glued to the rim. Oh ferchristssake. Tubulars, you're really going to make me deal with this? Add to the list of things to learn how to do: glue on a tire. For now, I decided to just pump it up and see if it holds air, and ordered a couple cheap training tubulars from probikekit.com, aka cheapest tires on earth.

I took a look at the front one. Good news - when whoever crashed the original bike into a bus crashed into a bus, they not only destroyed the frame and fork, but also the front wheel. They replaced it with a reasonable clincher. Comforting for multiple reasons.

When I started assembling the bike, I found that a) my fork steerer was indeed long enough (just barely!) and b) the stem from the wrecked bike was kinda rusty and ugly as sin. I'm currently on the lookout for a new one - if you've seen any sexy black quill stems in 25.4 clamp size and around 110 in length, hit me up. Once I find one, I can cut the cables and tape up the bars, and we'll be in business! Obviously no pictures til it's done right. I can say though that those Italians know style - even bottom of the barrel Mirage components from the 90's look so much nicer than the low-end stuff that Shimano craps out. We'll see if they actually work.

About January 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Katieblog in January 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.

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